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What's Down the Road for Silicon?


A chip of silicon carbide at a lab at the University of Chicago. Despite having a higher cost than silicon, the material is valuable for power electronics.

Credit: Lyndon French/The New York Times

The story of modern electronics is often equated with the relentless advancement of the silicon-based microchips that process information in our computers, phones and, increasingly, everything else. Moore's law has become a well-known summary of how those chips become ever more compact and powerful.

But electronics also have a critical, less celebrated role in modern life: directing the electricity that powers all of our gadgets. This field, aptly called "power electronics," is changing quickly as engineers switch to power-control devices based not on silicon chips but on new materials that handle electricity more quickly and efficiently. Some novel, post-silicon devices are in use already, and better power electronics will become far more important in the future as much of our economy switches from fossil fuels to electricity. At a time when supply chains for silicon are severely kinked, these newer materials have boomed.

This wave of new materials burst from the lab in 2017, when Tesla faced a pivotal moment in its history. The company had released two successful luxury car models, but in its effort to become a major automaker, it gambled the company's future on making a cheaper, mass-market vehicle.

From The New York Times
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